Billie Joe Armstrong once said, “Wake me up when September ends,” which is unfortunate, because he would’ve missed a great time to cook with squash.
There are so many uses for fall squash, from classic pies and soups to pickled squash and fried dumplings. This nutty, sweet and tangy fruit is such a versatile ingredient. I’ll be sharing some preparation tips that simplify the process, a few recipes that I have drawn inspiration from and my own recipe for a Squash, Carrot and Lentil Stew.
EXPERIMENT WITH SQUASH VARIETIES
Summer squash season is over, but there are still numerous hearty, thick-skinned squashes to enjoy during the cold months. My personal favourites are kabocha (the Japanese word for squash) and kuri squash. Their flesh have the taste and texture of a smooth, roasted chestnut. Substitute pumpkin, acorn, buttercup, honeynut or dumpling squash in your favourite recipes that call for butternut. Or go in a different direction entirely and try out delicata or spaghetti squash. Ask your local grocer or farmer what their favourite is!
HOW TO COOK
I recommend roasting squash with the skin on. Start by placing a damp towel under your cutting board to anchor it to the counter. Trim the top and bottom to create a flat surface and slice the squash lengthwise. Scoop out seeds, season and roast until soft, making the meat much easier to scoop away from the skin. If you must cube your squash prior to cooking it, peel with a knife rather than a vegetable peeler a knife is sturdier and sharper, an ideal match for thicker-skinned squash.
There are so many spices that go amazingly with squash. Give the holy pumpkin spice latte trinity of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove a well-deserved rest. Instead try coriander, cumin, turmeric and paprika, with sumac and lemon zest to add brightness. Add amazing richness with a spoonful of miso in your soup, or a drizzle of tahini on roasted squash. Rosemary, thyme and sage are beautiful when roasted, but don’t forget to garnish with fresh cilantro, parsley and tarragon.
Over the years I’ve been inspired to prepare squash in various different ways by non-westernized cuisines. Ashleigh Shanti’s Peanut, Pumpkin and Hominy Stew is a hearty, satisfying dish — perfect for a chilly night. Cook with Manali’s Butternut Squash Dhal is a staple dish, simple to prepare with loads of leftovers for lunch. Locally, I highly recommend Chopan Kabob’s fried pumpkin skillet with housemade masala sauce for your next takeout night!
SQUASH, CARROT AND LENTIL STEW RECIPE (SERVES FOUR, WITH LEFTOVERS FOR LUNCH)
1 medium squash of choice (I used kabocha)
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
1 medium red onion, quartered
10 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 tsp chili flakes (more if you like it hotter)
1 tsp paprika
1.5 tsp turmeric
½ tsp cumin
2 heaping spoonfuls honey (Doug’s Honey from the DTK Market is my favourite)
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbsp dijon mustard (grainy or smooth)
1L vegetable stock
½ cup coconut milk (optional)
2 cups red lentils, cooked (other lentil varieties, chickpeas or small white beans would work here as well)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chopped cilantro, full fat yogurt, toasted chili oil, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, warm bread or crackers.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Toss together squash, carrot and onion in a bowl with olive oil, honey, spices — except for the turmeric. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange on two parchment lined sheet trays and roast in a preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the squash begins to caramelize, becoming soft when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes before removing the peel from the squash. The roasting process can be done a day in advance.
Heat a medium sized pot on the stove. Thinly coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil and add in roasted vegetables. Saute them until they begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. Add vegetable stock and turmeric. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Blend in batches, or use an immersion blender, until smooth and return to the pot. Stir in coconut milk and lentils. If too thick, add a splash of water. Season with salt and pepper.
Enjoy your stew topped with yogurt, pumpkin seeds, chopped cilantro, chili oil and crusty sourdough, crackers or flatbread on the side.
Taylor Devalk is a trained chef and baker. Check out her food blogging for more tips and recipes on Instagram @taydevalk.